About 25 per cent of Ontarians got the H1N1 shot
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, December 2, 2009 8:55AM EST
TORONTO - Six weeks into the H1N1 vaccination effort, provinces and territories have vaccinated nearly a third of Canadians, figures compiled and calculated by The Canadian Press reveal.
With mass vaccination clinics still underway in many parts of the country, the estimate is a moving target, out of date as quickly as it is tallied.
But the rough national average is about 32 per cent -- not yet as high as authorities would like. That said, when compared to most other countries, the numbers aren't exactly shabby either.
Sweden, with a population of 9.3 million people, has vaccinated more than 35 per cent of its population. But the U.S., with a population of 308 million, has shipped only 70 million doses -- enough for 23 per cent of Americans -- to states so far. It's unclear how many of those doses have been administered.
"Frankly, it's progressing rather well," Dr. Danielle Grondin, assistant deputy minister for the Public Health Agency of Canada, says of Canada's effort.
"Overall, public health officials, including us, we are happy with the way that it's going.... There is a demand. There is an uptake. It's there and it increasing."
Manufacturing problems experienced by nearly all the producers have meant that vaccine roll out has been slower than anticipated in all countries with vaccine contracts.
And most countries don't have vaccine contracts. The World Health Organization estimated late last week that about 40 countries had started to vaccinate against the pandemic virus.
In Canada, some jurisdictions have hit high vaccination rates. The three northern territories report they have all immunized over half of their populations.
Dr. Brendan Hanley, chief medical officer of health for Yukon says that's in part because the territories received their entire allotments of vaccine when it first became available -- and when demand was high. With their small populations and full complements of vaccine, they could offer it to anyone who wanted it right from the start.
"We didn't have to go through the sequencing agonies, I guess, that the provinces had to go through," Hanley said.
"I think that was a big advantage. And because we had all our supply (early) we were able to catch the momentum... of the first two weeks."
With word that flu activity has peaked in all parts of the country, other jurisdictions may not be able to hit the marks set by the territories, Hanley says.
"I would be surprised if the provinces get to the rates that we have just because they've kind of lost the momentum," he admits.
"The trend seems to be of a levelling off. It would be very challenging for them, I think, to get to 50 per cent."
But Grondin says there's every reason to keep trying. For one thing, it's not clear whether there will be another surge in cases. Even if the curve of the epidemic continues to fall, lots of people will get sick before the wave of infections ends.
And with those infections could come additional deaths. The Public Health Agency announced Tuesday that the country's confirmed death toll has hit 329, up 20 from last Thursday.
With one in three people vaccinated nationally, the pandemic immunization effort has pulled level with Canada's typical seasonal flu vaccine uptake. In a pandemic, that's not high enough, officials say.
"I think we've got a ways to go," says Dr. Perry Kendall, chief medical officer of health for British Columbia, which had vaccinated about 28 per cent of its population by last Friday.
"If we're at 30 per cent that's still lower than I'd like to see and still lower than provides substantial protection. That means there's still a lot of vulnerable people out there."
In some jurisdictions, efforts have until recently been focused solely on high risk groups. With the throwing open of clinics to all who want H1N1 vaccine, rates should continue to climb, some say.
"I think the number's going to go up even higher in the coming days," says Laura Steeves, a communications officer with the Prince Edward Island Department of Health.
The percentages were calculated based on estimates of doses delivered provided by the provinces and territories and population estimates from Statistics Canada.
The sole exception was Ontario. David Jensen, a provincial health ministry spokesperson, said while Ontario has distributed 4.05 million doses -- enough to protect nearly 31 per cent of Ontarians -- to local health departments and doctors' offices, it believes 25 per cent is a more accurate estimate of how much vaccine is already in people's arms.
Nunavut, the home of federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, leads the nation with an uptake rate of 59 per cent. It's followed closely by Northwest Territories (58 per cent) and Yukon (52 per cent).
Newfoundland and Labrador boast the highest vaccination rate among the provinces, with 46 per cent of residents having been vaccinated. Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick have each vaccinated about 40 per cent of their residents. Nova Scotia trails with 26 per cent of its population immunized.
About 39 per cent of Saskatchewan residents have been vaccinated, and 35 per cent of Quebecers have been as well. Manitoba and Alberta have vaccinated 29 and 26 per cent of their populations respectively.